Salty meat can harm you in 30 minutes

HEALTH RISK: A sirloin steak please, but hold the salt.

IT takes just half an hour for one salty meal to significantly impair the arteries' ability to pump blood around the body, alarming research shows.

Blood flow becomes temporarily more restricted for between 30 minutes and an hour after the food has been consumed. Scientists tested how quickly salt had a damaging effect on the body by recruiting 16 healthy adults and feeding them each a high-salt meal, containing 4g, and later a low-salt meal, made with just 0.3g.

Before and after each meal, they tested how smoothly blood was flowing in the brachial artery - the main blood vessel in the upper arm which is normally used for checking blood pressure.

Although the artery does not measure blood flow directly to the heart, it is commonly used to give an indication of cardiovascular health. The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed blood flow was significantly more impaired within 30 minutes of eating the salty meal than the low-salt alternative and the restriction reached a peak after an hour.

In a report on the findings, the authors from a group of research organisations in Adelaide, Australia, said: "This study showed the amount of salt similar to that in a commonly eaten meal impairs blood flow in healthy men and women.

"The mechanisms for this need to be investigated more intensively."

British experts last night warned that many families typically eat a high salt meal containing 4g or more most nights. Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of the lobby group Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said: "This research is of great interest.

"It clearly shows a rapid effect on the stiffness of the blood vessels. "It looked at the effects of eating just four grams of salt.

"That's not particularly high and is probably average for many meals consumed in the UK.

"In fact, if you eat out you will probably consume more than that. This kind of damage to the blood flow is thought to be a very early sign of heart disease.

"Every time you eat a salty meal you are altering the function of the cells that line your arteries."

Salty diets have been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, osteoporosis and stomach cancer.

The daily recommended amount in the UK is no more than 6g, (Japan - 10grams), but it is estimated that most people eat around 8.6g.

Bread, processed foods and ready-made sauces are some of the items that contain the highest salt levels, although supermarkets have gradually been reducing quantities in oven-ready meals.

Health experts estimate that cutting average consumption by just a couple of grams a day would slash strokes by 22 per cent and heart attacks by 16 per cent, saving 17,000 lives in the UK. Research published last year suggested heart disease could be cut by almost a fifth if food companies were banned from adding too much salt to their products.

Laws to restrict the salt content in ready meals, pizzas and sandwiches would be 20 times more effective in improving health than offering dietary advice, experts said.

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